Monkeys brought to Silver Springs State Park nearly 80 years ago could be causing lasting harm to the natural ecosystem.
A University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study found that rhesus macaques primates might be preying on bird eggs in the park.
Jane Anderson, a UF doctoral student specializing in interdisciplinary ecology and the lead author of the study, said the study was conducted to see if the primates would prey on artificial bird nests — the answer is yes.
According to the study, Anderson placed cameras throughout the park and was able to observe the macaques consuming quail eggs placed in artificial nests. They have also been documented eating nearly 50 species of plants.
“Monkeys are cute, but can devastate systems that don’t have the proper predators or other ecological means to keep their populations on check,” Anderson said, in a July 7 news release.
The rhesus macaques have been introduced in other parts of the United States and have caused environmental and economic damage, according to the study. The same is happening at Silver Springs, resulting in the destruction of red mangrove trees causing shoreline erosion.
These primates were brought from Asia in the 1930s to increase tourism in the area, which is now Silver Springs State Park. Anderson said she and other researchers have been studying the macaques for about three and a half years now.
Steve Johnson, associate professor of wildlife ecology at UF, said that the primates are at the bottom of their growth curve, meaning that their population could potentially take off in the next few years.
“Our study shows that we need to learn more about their habits and impacts in the park so the Florida Park Service can make science-based decisions on how to manage these non-native monkeys,” Johnson said in the release.
Another issue is the comfort level the primates feel around humans.
Anderson said the primates have been seen jumping onto people’s boats and taking their food. The macaques have even been known to attempt to urinate on people.
“I don’t think people understand that they can be very dangerous,” Anderson said.